Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Introduction to Indoor Air Quality - Considering the Elements of Exposure
Often the environments in which we work on a daily basis can pose risk to our health without our awareness. We get so used to these environments that we forget that we could be exposed to harmful respiratory hazards such as dusts, chemicals and biological agents. Many factors should be considered when evaluating risk to the health of a workforce, and the quality of air should be at the forefront of any risk evaluation process.
Now, we aren't just talking production areas here. Many general office environments, lobbies, communal or reception areas have their own risks to consider. It is a fact; consideration given towards air quality may help prevent work-related illness through the inhalation of a substance hazardous to health. So why are general work areas overlooked when considering air quality?
Often, the main work processes carried out in the production areas are considered a 'higher risk' in contrast to the environments experienced in general work areas such as offices. The reason for this is because much of the hazardous materials or processes are present and used in the main production areas. However, what if we were to tell you that a freshly decorated and renovated office can pose just as much risk to health as a main production area? I think most people would find that hard to believe.
Common Contaminants Associated with Poor Indoor Air Quality
There are many substances that are capable of causing poor indoor air quality. Many of which are emitted from the new furniture, newly installed carpets or floor tiles and paints.
With that said, irregular and poor maintenance, a lack of light or air circulation can cause biological agents to cultivate, contributing to poor indoor air quality. Contaminants such as mould, fungus and bacteria can grow. Spores are then released into the surrounding air and circulated around the room.
Biological Agents Causing Poor Indoor Air Quality
Although mould may seem harmless, the spores can become airborne and cause severe allergic reactions in susceptible people. The mould spores can also cause respiratory sensitisation resulting in frequent asthma attacks.
Bacteria or viruses can cause detrimental effects to health through inhalation. As such, many airborne bacteria or viruses can cause illness. Air which is contaminated can be recirculated and as a result, a whole workforce could be at risk of contracting some form of bacteria or virus-derived illness such as a cold, fever or sickness bug.
Chemical Agents Causing Poor Air Quality
Many chemical agents can become airborne, particularly when renovations are carried out.
For example, with regards to new furniture, the Volatile Organic Compounds released from the glues and adhesives can accumulate in a room. As can the formaldehyde, often used as a preservative for wood and paint.
Another thing to note is that some acrylic adhesives are formulated from Dichloromethane, a carcinogenic substance that can also target the body's central nervous system, causing detrimental effects to health through inhalation. In high concentrations, Dichloromethane can be fatal, recently killing a worker who was tasked with laying a floor in the UK. Some adhesives can emit the substance whilst curing.
All that said, it pays to understand what substances are emitted into a working environment following some kind of renovation work, and an assessment should be carried out to quantify the risks posed to worker health.
How Can Good Indoor Air Quality Improve Worker Performance and Moral?
Working in an environment where you are exposed to airborne pollutants can significantly reduce morale and productivity. The key thing to understand here is that poor air quality can lead to occupational disease, and failure to manage such risks may result in increased sickness rates, low staff retention figures, high staff turnover and reduced productivity due to illness, fatigue and poor mental health.
With regards to worker mental health and wellbeing, Volatile Organic Compounds - often found in glues, paints and varnishes, can depress the central nervous system, increasing the likelihood of poor mental health amongst exposed groups.
Particular dusts are capable of causing allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Even in small quantities. Poor health will lead to poor work performance and is certain to reduce worker moral.
On the flip side, providing a well ventilated, well-aired working environment free from any airborne pollutants can improve worker morale and performance. A worker that feels valued will inevitably produce greater results. Therefore, by showing that the business cares for their health and wellbeing, this shows a willingness to ensure their health and safety is a top priority above anything else, helping the worker feel valued.
In Summary - Concluding on the importance of Indoor Air Quality
In conclusion, poor indoor air quality can lead to poor respiratory health. Ultimately, by not ensuring that a reduction in chemical and biological pollutants is achieved consistently, this can lead to increased sickness rates, high staff turnover and a loss of productivity. Further to this, poor health caused through the inhalation of a work-related contaminant can mean that a company is failing to meet the requirements set out by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations.
Overall, it is highly recommended that regular checks of air quality in general work areas be carried out to ensure workers are not at risk of exposure to chemical and biological agents present in the workplace.
If you require any further information on how to measure exposures in the workplace, please get in touch. We are more than happy to support you and your business.
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